At a certain age—say, over 50— you might think that you’ve seen it all or not be surprised by much, or so goes conventional wisdom. Therefore, when I opened an email today, I was astounded to read that an artist in Chicago, Theaster Gates, was awarded $3.5 million from the Knight Foundation to support his work using the arts to revitalize communities. Imbedded in the details of this unusually generous grant award, Gates wrote that, “From my artistic practice, I learned early on that art has the capacity to change people’s perceptions—not only about a concept or an idea, but also about a place.” I was so happy for Mr. Gates and of course a tiny bit envious that artists in the Bay Area aren’t yet getting single 3.5 million dollar grants, or larger.
Do you think this is too much to ask? Is it too far a reach to expect millions in support for a dance artist? Join me in shouting a passionate no, it’s not too much.
Thankfully there are other significant grants being awarded to artists. The Doris Duke Foundation recently announced the third year of their artist awards, and the first impact grants. Our own Joanna Haigood and Anna Halprin—artists that, like Gates, have committed their lives to placing their work in a variety of communities and places—were acknowledged with an artist award of $275,000 for Haigood and an impact grant of $80,000 for Halprin. These grants were much deserved and the leaders at the Duke Foundation warrant a standing ovation for their ongoing commitment to support artists in Dance, Jazz and Theater, infusing over $18 million to artists in these disciplines over the past two years. Do I hear a passionate shout-out: we need more of this!
It’s the impossibly improbable ideas that get noticed. Therefore, within this era of being rightly concerned about how our local dance artists and organizations will be impacted by the tech-boom, housing costs, minimal government support—some would even say lack of—and the widening wealth inequality in the United States, we all need to advocate for significantly larger grants to support artists. Can I get a bid for 5 million dollars for dance?
I will continue to remind myself of what Gates so thoughtfully described as “art has the capacity to change people’s perceptions” so that the dreams and desires for more funds to support dance won’t seem an unrealistic, just-another-in-a-long-list-objective that I will accomplish in my lifetime.
As you read about the host of performances and projects this month, that have imbedded within their own big ideas and surprises, imagine the best so you’re prepared for a perception change.
I’m now thinking that anything less than $6 million is unacceptable.